Anaya Arts and Tunkas Fashion bring African craftsmanship to a Ottawa malls for the holidays
If you take a walk through Ottawa malls, you will notice a number of brands from Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and across the world, but very few local brands. Well, that recently changed thanks to two brave local entrepreneurs. What sets them apart is not only the fact that they’re both Black women, but they both come from Africa, with its long history of entrepreneurship and craftsmanship (despite what you tend to see on TV).
Back in October, Anaya Arts founder and creative director, Fiona Khaemba, took to social media to announce the opening of her new Bayshore Shopping Centre store. Anaya’s west end outpost features a slightly airy yet cozy design, selling everything from Anaya’s signature hoodies and bags to prints. The store also features a large wall visitors can sign to let fellow shoppers know they were there.
Then weeks later, the Kenyan entrepreneur took to social media to hint at a second Ottawa area location in time for the holidays, but this time she would be heading downtown to CF Rideau Centre. Opening two stores mid-pandemic. when many other retailers are closing stores, may seem overly ambitious, but for Khaemba it was worth the reward.
“Opening one store was ambitious. Opening a second store a few weeks later was crazy. But no risks, no reward”, she told SHIFTER. “Bayshore mall gave us the knowledge and tools to aim higher and go bigger. We had our eyes on the Rideau Centre location, traffic and audience for a while. No regrets. Both locations have welcomed us with open arms and we’re forever grateful. We’re ready for more in 2022.”
For Khaemba, the move was not only about having faith in God or herself, but in the people around her.
“My biggest lesson was getting help. For the first year and a half, I was doing it completely by myself. It was my baby; I wanted to control everything. But I have learned to delegate and relinquish control and ask for help. It takes a village and opening this store literally took a village.”
Meanwhile another bold entrepreneur would open a mid-pandemic store of her own at Bayshore mall. After stops in Toronto, Billings Bridge, and Les Promenades Gatineau, Princess Tunka brought her dress and gown boutique Tunkas Fashion to the west end mall.
A native of Liberia in West Africa, Tunka moved to the capital because of her husband’s job, but fashion was something she was exposed to her whole life.
“I grew up in the fashion industry. My mother was teaching as a designer while I was growing up”, she explains. “When I came to Canada, I wanted to be an actress and film director, so I got into acting classes in Mississauga. I then found myself involved more with making the students’ costumes for films. I fell in love with everything about it and the next thing I know, I had a studio at my house and I was custom making dresses.”
The rising influence of immigrant entrepreneurs
With its focus on tech and big business, the importance of immigrant entrepreneurship and small business seem to be lost on some Ottawa business leaders, but Fiona Khaemba and Princess Tunka are a part of a growing trend in immigrant entrepreneurship globally, including here in Canada.
According to a 2012 study, immigrants were more likely to found businesses than members of the native population.
Here in Canada, Statistics Canada found that “80 per cent of immigrant owners of private companies were still owners two years after starting their business”.
The same report found that 58 per cent of these owners still had their businesses seven years later; similar to Canadian-born business owners. Immigrant run businesses in Sweden, Norway, Germany and the U.S. had a shorter survival time. The same article also states that firms owned by immigrants accounted for a “disproportionate share of net job creation” between 2003 and 2013.
Fiona Khaemba and Princess Tunka aren’t just a flash in the pan, but an example of the legacy of African entrepreneurship and craftsmanship, and perhaps even the growing retail and fashion ambitions of Black Ottawa.